Political science conference showcases students’ research on public policy, politics and international affairs

VCU students Mariah Hines and Rana Armanous answer questions about their presentation, "Mali...
VCU students Mariah Hines and Rana Armanous answer questions about their presentation, "Mali: The Tuareg Rebellion of 2012," at the 10th annual Political Science Student Research Conference.

Nearly 100 undergraduate students from Virginia Commonwealth University and a number of other universities presented their research Friday on gun policy, immigration, terrorism, refugees, drones, fracking and much more at VCU’s 10th annual Political Science Student Research Conference in University Student Commons.

Julia Carney, a senior political science major in the College of Humanities and Sciences, was among the students who presented research as part of a session on Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender in education programs or activities.

Carney’s presentation, “Title IX and Trigger Warnings,” discussed the rise of trigger warnings – or warnings ahead of content that it contains potentially traumatic subject matter – amid the wider context of Title IX and sexual assault.

“In 2011 under the Obama administration, they reinterpreted Title IX to now include sexual assault under that law, and I basically place trigger warnings within the whole debate that was created by that reinterpretation,” Carney said.

It’s part of this huge, complex, interwoven story.

Looking ahead, Carney said she would like to do additional research on the topic.

“I’d like to do [additional] content analysis over time to sort of empirically prove what I’m talking about, but what I think it would show is that the trigger warning debate is happening simultaneously with the growing awareness of sexual assault on campus, but also with an increase in diagnoses of depression and anxiety, and this whole wave of [debate over] political correctness,” she said.“It’s part of this huge, complex, interwoven story.”

Another student, Caroline Butler, a senior in the School of World Studies, gave a presentation on urban refugees in West Africa and how she believes a new, sustainable approach is needed to support them.

“My main argument is that we need to rethink the way that we approach refugee crises,” she said.“We need to adjust our thinking [in] that refugees are largely in the developing world and they’re largely living outside of camps. And … as far as international aid policy goes, we should adjust the way we approach it in a way that is sustainable and empowers local communities and individuals.”

Other students’ presentations included: “Russian Roulette: Assessing Putin’s Risk Tolerance in his Middle East Policies,” “The NRA’s Involvement in Legislation: Symbolic Value of Guns, Race and Gender,” “Exploring the Relationships Between Immigration and Crime,” “Examining the War on Drugs: Effects on Race and Class” and “Gender Bias in the Virginia Judicial System.”

Christopher Saladino, an instructor of political science and organizer of the conference, said the Student Research Conference provides students with a chance to present research in an academic conference setting, but with a more encouraging environment, in which they can receive constructive criticism from faculty, fellow students and others in the audience.  

“They’re getting an opportunity to dip their toe into the field,” he said. “And they’re doing it under the kind of conditions that are way better than jumping into [an academic conference] head first.”

“When I go to a research conference, I give my presentation, and a bunch of colleagues look at me very seriously and say, ‘I think your methodology was weak and your case studies demonstrate selection bias, and I don’t know, I’m just not buying your causal mechanisms.’ And I say, ‘Thanks a lot.’ And then we all go have a cocktail. I don’t want to do that to 19-year-olds. I want them to want to do this. We want it to be – warm and fuzzy isn’t the right term – but we want the students to feel pretty good about the experience.”

In addition to the VCU students, Friday’s conference included students from North Caroline State University, the University of Mary Washington, Virginia Tech, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, East Carolina University, Howard University, the U.S. Naval Academy and elsewhere.


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